HSBC’s Canada Bank Wins Gender-Parity Crown in Lopsided Industry

(Bloomberg) -- HSBC Holdings Plc’s Canadian bank has achieved something most financial firms can only aspire to: gender parity at its upper echelons.

Women make up more than half of HSBC Bank Canada’s combined board and senior executive team, including Canadian Chief Executive Officer Sandra Stuart. The subsidiary not only leads other large international units of London-based HSBC -- including the U.S., France and Mexico -- it sets a benchmark for North American lenders as an industrywide push for more women in top banking roles gains momentum.

HSBC’s Canada Bank Wins Gender-Parity Crown in Lopsided Industry

HSBC Bank Canada, whose C$115.2 billion ($86.5 billion) in assets would make it Canada’s seventh-largest bank, has women occupying four of nine board positions and 10 of the 16 top executive roles. That 56% ratio puts HSBC higher than any North American bank with the same or greater assets, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“They are leading by example,” Tanya van Biesen, executive director for Canada at Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit that pushes to make workplaces better for women. “They’ve done it quietly in an unassuming way.”

HSBC’s Canada Bank Wins Gender-Parity Crown in Lopsided Industry

The Canadian division also outdoes its 154-year-old parent. HSBC Holdings has five women on its 15-member board and two on its 15-member senior management team. The company’s global goal is to have 30% of its senior leadership roles filled by women by next year. The figure rose to 28% last year from 22% in 2012, U.K. filings show.

Women continue to lag on compensation at its U.K. bank. Female staff there are paid bonuses almost 70% lower on average than their male counterparts, according to the company’s report on gender pay gaps required by the U.K.

Gender parity has been a deliberate strategy in Canada under Stuart’s leadership. She joined HSBC in 1982 and climbed the ranks to top roles including chief operating officer and chair of the subsidiary’s diversity and inclusion council. She became a member of HSBC Bank Canada’s board in 2011 and was named the top Canadian executive in 2015.

Stuart put policies in place more than five years ago requiring those in middle management and above to ensure their businesses were comprised of at least 30% women.

“The game changer was targets,” Stuart, 56, said in a phone interview. “They weren’t soft, they weren’t imaginary, they weren’t ‘it’s the best you can.’ If you hit them, you got a green; if you didn’t hit them, you got a red.”

The push has coincided with growth in the business. HSBC Bank Canada’s total assets have increased about 29% during Stuart’s four-year tenure. The division generated C$2.26 billion of annual operating income last year, compared with C$2.04 billion in 2015, the year she became CEO.

Stuart suggests other CEOs should consider imposing targets within their companies. “I wouldn’t be shy to put the targets in front of your leadership team and I wouldn’t be shy to have the discussion at the board,” she said. “I encourage people to get on with those discussions, and if they’re uncomfortable, excellent! That’s where the dialogue starts, and get over it.”

Moving the Needle

Stuart was named an “Honours Champion” by Catalyst Canada in the company/firm leader category for 2019.

“She has just been quietly consistent in building talent over time within the bank, and this is the result,” Catalyst’s van Biesen said. “It hasn’t been flashy, it hasn’t been a manicured message to the market.”

Stuart says she’s seen “fantastic awareness” on gender diversity in the past decade, with better programs, education and willingness to improve, but “the needle is not moving quick enough.”

“It’s going to take more than my lifetime to see parity in the workforce,” she said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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